You Can Learn From Your Dog

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Another insightful look at leadership from my guest blogger, EJ Widun!

It is often said that a dog is man’s best friend. I believe it is true. Those of us who have pets forge an incredibly special and powerful bond.

Think about it…what’s not to love.

  • A pet gives you unconditional love.
  • A pet doesn’t care what went wrong or right, your pet loves you no matter what.
  • A pet will listen when you just need to talk.
  • A pet will be happy to just spend time around you and support you.

In our family, we have two dogs and they are truly special members of the family. We adore them and love them. They are always there with a tail wag and a smile. They are always ready to listen and offer unyielding support. No matter what has happened personally or professionally, our dogs are there to offer the perfect support.

Have you ever stopped to think if you, as a leader, display these same traits? Are you there for your team members no matter what happens?   Are you there to offer unconditional support?

As leaders, we may feel that we have to be right or have the answer to every situation. That is not true. Sometimes our team members just need our support and love. They need us to act like a pet to them. They don’t need to be told how to be better or what could have gone differently. Sometimes the team member just needs your ear and heart.

So after reading this, I hope that you can take a moment to appreciate your pets for all they do for you every day. I also hope that as you reflect on your relationship with your pets, you learn how to apply the lessons that they teach you into your leadership style.

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All Things to All People

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Do people-pleasers make good leaders? Pleasing others can create a nice, happy environment, but in an organization, can being a people pleaser lead to big problems?

You know the old saying about not being able to please 100% of the people 100% of the time. If you have figured it out, please let me know your secret! When you are tasked with creating a positive work environment for numerous people, it is simply not possible to be all things to all people. Everyone looks at the world in a different way, and have different perspectives, which can bring conflict. If you spend all of your time trying to please every single person all of the time, you are not leading – you are just reacting to those around you.

There are times when a leader needs to make a difficult decision, and it is not necessarily a popular decision. While it is important to take the opinions and feelings of your team members under consideration, there are times when tough decisions must be made and there will be unhappy people. Trying to be a people pleaser doesn’t help out; it can make an already difficult situation even worse. For example, if you have to make a difficult decision and you attempt to make everyone happy, there will be some who are satisfied with your decision and others who believe that you are just accommodating others and do not care about them. This can create division and animosity between your team members.

I worked for a leader one time who led with the idea that you could not make everyone happy, but as long as you treated everyone in a consistent, fair manner, people may not be happy with your decisions, but they could at least respect you.

Are you all things to all people?

Cynical – Who Me?

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What happens when you show appreciation by making a good will gesture to your team members and they dismiss it, or worse express their displeasure with your grand gesture? Do you go tell them to pound sand? Or do you just let it go and move on with your life, wondering why you even bother?

I personally experienced this a couple of times with a group of people I was supervising. I thought it would be nice if I bought everyone lunch as a surprise. Thinking this might be a positive morale-boosting event, I brought in what I perceived to be a nice lunch only to have some of my team members complain about the choice of food, and point blank ask me why I opted for one type of food over another. My first instinct was to ask why they were complaining about something free which was definitely better than what was being served in the employee cafeteria! Fortunately, I was able to hold my tongue and not say what I was thinking. I answered their questions politely and asked what type of food they really liked (so if I chose to ever do this again, I certainly would not get it wrong!) This scenario really angered me, as I was brought up old-school where you thanked the person for their thoughtfulness, took what was given to you and kept your mouth shut. This definitely made me think twice about doing something nice for my staff, which I considered to be sad.

How do you keep from becoming jaded by your team members? There is that old saying about one bad apple spoiling the whole bunch. What happens when you have a couple of bad apples that just are not satisfied with anything that you do for them?

Who Are You?

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As I look to make changes to my current website, it has become an interesting exercise in identifying who I am and what do I want to accomplish?

So many times an organization will write a business plan based on a life-long dream, create all of their content, start to sell their product and then forget what motivated them in the first place. Or better yet, what happens when things change and the dream evolves into something completely different than what they originally started with?

Would you consider this an identity crisis? An organization thinks they know what direction they want to move, but after a bit they start moving in a different direction. A case of a short attention span – possibly? I believe it can become an identity issue when you attempt to continue with your initial plan while dabbling in something new, and not doing either especially well. It becomes confusing to the public, let alone your team members. What do your customers expect when they walk through the door? Are your team members able to clearly communicate what it is you do?

For example, think about what every major fast food chain has tried to morph into. For many consumers it has become confusing. Most chains had their specialty and they did it well. Now, when you hit the drive-thru at any major chain, the menu is so expansive and diverse, you wonder what exactly do they specialize in? I realize the public gets bored, but it seems to me that most of the fast food chains have lost their identity as they try to appease absolutely everyone. And, it appears many of them are not doing well financially. A correlation? Maybe.

I am going through the same identity crisis as I have started to move down a different path than the one I originally thought I would travel. I don’t see it as a bad thing, just something new that I need to explore and figure out. We should consistently revisit who we are and what motivates us. If it is the initial idea, then great! If it is not, that is okay too.   That gives you an opportunity to explore your passion and figure out the best path to take.

Yes Captain

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The other night I was watching the show “Deadliest Catch” on the Discovery Channel.  (For those of you who haven’t seen it, it is a fascinating look at those who fish for Alaskan King Crab.)  I began to think about how leadership exists in professions such as fishing.  It is clearly a top-down leadership hierarchy – one person in charge and the others follow orders. It is pretty obvious that the captain is in charge, and no one questions the decisions made (or if they choose to do so, it makes for interesting television!)

I have written before about leadership and title. I do have a strong belief that anyone has the potential to become a leader, regardless of his or her title. What about professions such as the military or operating a ship? A single person gives orders and the others are responsible for carrying them out, no questions asked. Does this leadership style impact the way in which a leader thinks about motivation? If someone knows that their orders will be followed regardless how they interact with their crew, does motivation really matter?  What do you think?

How Does Your Culture Grow?

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Organizational culture – what is it and why has it become so important in the landscape of corporate America?

Where does an organization’s culture come from? Is it just a set of rules written by a committee and everyone is expected to blindly follow them? Is an organization’s culture a slogan or thought that a CEO just thinks up on the fly and insists everyone admire his or her brilliance? Does culture amount to the way in which everyone within an organization behaves or interacts with one another? These questions could go on and on, as there are probably as many interpretations of organizational culture out there.

I am always interested in hearing what people think about culture within the organization that employs them. Some believe it is the best thing out there, others believe it stinks. In reality, how many people actually understand the basics of your organization’s culture and could communicate them to someone? I have spoken with people throughout the years about the culture within their organizations, and to be honest, I was surprised at the responses. Many could not articulate a concise idea of what their organization stood for. They got hung up on the idea that organizational culture was how leadership treated them. While that is an important part of an organization’s culture, it is not the only thing. An organizational culture extends past the leader-team member relationship to also encompass an overall attitude about how you do business. Are you an organization that likes to have fun while working, are you passionate about making the world a better place, are you completely possessed with providing excellent service to your customers? These are all examples of what an organization’s culture might look like. Do we allow our team members to understand how our organization’s culture was created and why it is significant to our success?

How often do we communicate this information with our team members? Is organizational culture something we talk about during new team member orientation, and then promptly forget about it, leaving it on the shelf along with the new team member handbook? A piece of paper on a bulletin board in the team member break room doesn’t cut it. Organizational culture is not something that can be stuck up on the wall if you expect people to live it. If you expect your organization to have a strong culture, it needs to become part of your everyday thoughts and actions. If you personify the culture of your organization, then others will follow.